Riccardo Muti to the Met: Give your musicians back their dignity

Riccardo Muti to the Met: Give your musicians back their dignity


norman lebrecht

January 12, 2021

An open statement, just in, from the Chicago Symphony music director:

The closure of the Metropolitan Opera House and the dramatic situation of its wonderful Orchestra embodies a profound grief, not only for the city of New York, but for the entire cultural world. Without music and the musicians who bring it to life, civil society is doomed to spiritual poverty and barbarism. Music is not entertainment, but rather, an essential food for the mind and soul.

The Met, its Orchestra, along with its artistic team and technical crews are a heritage of humanity. The artistic world is in disbelief that the very existence of a great Orchestra like the Met’s could be in danger and even at risk of disappearing.

My appeal, as a musician, as Music Director of the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and as a citizen of the world, is to give back to the musicians of the Met the dignity which we all deserve and the hope that they can soon return to share with us their art. We must support them during this unprecedented and terrible pandemic.

The extensive and glorious history of the Met and its fabulous Orchestra cannot end in an artistic catastrophe. The world of Art, of Culture, and of Beauty would never forgive it! Moreover, future generations would suffer dearly the negative consequences. –Maestro Muti

He may have to wait a while for a reply from Peter Gelb.


  • SMH says:

    Bravo Muti!

    • Dalledu Alletre says:

      Muti led all of 7 performances at the Met. Why is he mouthing off on this? Anyway it is a stronger statement than Nézét-Séguin’s!

    • Hal Sacks says:

      Tutti with Muti.

    • Walter says:

      Why are there 80 odd dislikes for a statement beyond criticism?

      • Frederick says:

        Beyond criticism? There is plenty of motivated criticism on these posts. Can you read, old sport?

        • Walter says:

          Yeah, mostly motivated by a quasi-QAnon striking out at anything making sense. I’ve rarely read such a load of biased crap. Mind you, I thought I would hang around for a day to look at the view. I’m not coming back. This is a very sad, unhealthy place to be and has no relevance to the world of music as I know it.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I appreciate Maestro Muti’s sentiments and share them at a fundamental level. But the Met has serious economic issues that appealing to the higher calling of art will not solve. I read recently that the AVERAGE stagehand now makes close to $300,000 a year. AVERAGE. There are some that are making closer to $600,000 a year. If this information is correct (and it’s been published elsewhere, so I have no reason to think otherwise), then really the appeal from Maestro Muti needs to be made to those in the company who want to continue doing what they’re doing, ON A SUSTAINABLE BASIS. I’m 100% sympathetic to the musicians and people behind the scene, and I love what they do, but in the absence of economic reality, it’s not sustainable. And ignoring that fact does no one any favors.

    • Check your sources, please says:

      Reading inflated numbers in some random comment on the internet doesn’t make them true…

      • drummerman says:

        No, not inflated numbers. From the Met’s 2018-2019 IRS Form 990: “Philip Volpe, Master Electrician: $398, 818; Stephen Diaz, Master Carpenter: $351,552.” Mr. Volpe’s salary (above) that year was higher than David Chan, the Concertmaster.

        BTW, their “Pension Obligation” at that time was: $126,581,970.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          TWO people does not make an “average salary”, Mr. Drummerman. Facts should not be used out of context just to buttress an argument.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Both of your opinions notwithstanding, the numbers Herr Doktor refers to come from the Metropolitan Opera itself and the organisation’s public tax filings…according to those, the top 4 stagehands each earned in excess of $500.000 and the average compensation for full-time stagehands last year was $260.000, including benefits.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        If you mean the “inflated numbers” that come from publicly-filed tax returns (as the article indicated), then you’re correct.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Again, look at the IRS Form 990 for the Metropolitan Opera. The Head Electrician made $398,000 and the Head Carpenter made $352,000. These were the highest backstage salaries for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2019.

      Heresay are the facts of fools.

      • Nick2 says:

        And during whose reign over the last 14 years have salaries risen to such inflated levels? The man who has regularly overspent, totally failed to rein in costs and seen audience numbers consistently fall. His name is a disgrace.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          I’m certainly not a Gelb defender, but these salaries were inflated even under Volpe. Fair is fair in doling out blame.

    • Harald says:

      Herr Dokter?

      Please do not forget that living and working in NYC cost a lot….a great lot!

    • justsaying says:

      This pot-shotting against high-salary professionals needs to stop. These are not outrageous salaries for _the top of a profession_ that contributes so much to humanity. Those incomes would not be considered at all high for middle to upper-middle tier of doctors or lawyers in New York City. Mediocre athletes routinely earn far more. Yes, growing income inequality is a problem in the world, but this is not the right target for taking it on.

  • Chicagoan says:

    Messiah-Muti should put his big wallet where his mouth is.

    Muti’s personal wealth is comparable to that of many of the Met’s major donors and trustees. Ultimately, whether we like it or not, the rescue of the Met has to come from donors. Muti should donate to musicians, at the Met and elsewhere, his 2020 CSO Music Director salary, generously (!) capped at 75% this past year due to the COVID-driven cancellation of the CSO schedule since March. We estimate that this donation should amount to approximately $1.5M.

    What precisely did Muti do as Music Director, while in Italy for 10 months, to benefit Chicago in 2020 and earn $1.5M in salary – a very large amount of money – while musicians at the Met and across the wide world are in deplorable and most uncertain conditions? We will never know. What we do know is that Muti’s family business, RMMusic, stood up a digital streaming platform which competes directly with CSO TV. Finding himself in the exact same set of unfortunate circumstances, Maestro Dudamel, a young and powerful leader, has entirely forgone his Music Director salary, putting his money where his heart and values are. What a contrast.

    From the Vienna pulpit, Muti in his angelical, Bearer-of-Light incarnation, preached to the world that music is not a profession, but a mission. Going forward, he himself would do well to embrace this “mission” and renounce not only his $2M+ annual CSO Music Director salary, but also his concert fees in Chicago, estimated at $30K per concert (!), much higher when he tours (fees that go right on top of and fatten his multi-million Music Director remuneration). Muti should direct his family business to donate the sales of the riccardomuti.com bazaar to the Cherubini musicians (the same young musicians who play the music recorded and sold on the said bazaar, after all).

    Or, Muti should clarify his thinking. Perhaps he means to say that music must be a mission for the Met and CSO donors, an exploited profession for his Cherubini young artists, a tax for Italian and EU taxpayers, but a profitable business for himself and his family.

    • they resisted says:

      The Met has had enough financial resources and time to handle paying their singers, players and staff.

      They clearly don’t want to.

    • Ravennati anonimi says:

      Maestro has vast expenses supporting his Orchestra Cherubini and the Italian Opera Academy, underwriting his label’s CDs and DVDs, maintaining his old joined houses in Ravenna, keeping his wife, kids, grandkids and security retinue in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed, and paying taxes on his land in Puglia and on income from your great orchestra. Have a heart!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Always the strain of hatred about what conductors and others earn. There’s often resentment and envy about money in many of these comments, which render them redundant.

    • Walter says:

      So much envy! You must be really hurting.

  • Stop the Spread says:

    NY Governor Cuomo is in charge, not Gelb.

    Keeping all performance venues closed including the Met is the only responsible and decent thing to do as a humanitarian gesture no matter the outlying consequences.

    • That's not the point says:

      This is not about opening up. This is about actually paying the artists who rely on the Met’s salary at least a portion of their previous income rather than letting them starve for 18 months.

      • LS says:

        Based on my understanding, the trouble is that any major opera company in the USA that is paying its orchestra/relevant unions something right now is only able to do so AFTER agreeing to pay cuts. Anyone who looks at any of these companies’ annual budgets will see that they frankly can’t afford 500+ employees’ salaries without significant concessions. We’re living in a once in a century pandemic, and those who don’t recognize the ripple effect in local economies for years is delusional. The Met is offering a decent weekly payout each week right now (not enough obviously to thrive in NYC, but what can you expect from a non-subsidized company) provided they accept cuts. The Met has also been paying millions in healthcare since the pandemic for its orchestra members, so let’s not act like they’re not paying anything right now.

        Provided the union leaders are not totally incompetent (they are, I suspect, because the fact that pandemics are a reason for force majeure in these contracts is absurdly stupid and not in most American business contracts), they could probably negotiate something similar to the NY Phil’s revised contracts. Frankly, we have no idea if the MET will be able to reopen in the Fall as planned (does anyone think they’ll pull off Meistersinger of Boris Godunov this fall?). Better to get a fee guarantee right now than drag this out for a not particularly decent buyout. Plus, if the MET can list them as part-time employees at this time, that likely makes them eligible for NY’s unemployment rules too.

      • Biden-Cuomo got this! says:

        Nobody cares about that.
        Let the met and Lincoln Center fall..

        Look, Cuomo and De Blasio will simply tell Biden how much they want. They’ll concoct some assistance programs and these people can simply apply and get paid using the government.

        Artists and their ecosystem will simply have to “re-imagine” getting money.

        As for the facts…

        FACT – Andrew just held another “award winning” State of the State address


        FACT – BROKE NYS lower itself to using drugs to generate income.


        FACT – BROKE NYS lower itself to using online sports gambling to generate income.


        OUTCOMES – Between legalizing drugs, dampening criminal laws, encouraging people to gamble even more who are already addicted by the time sports enters into the picture and President Biden handing out Billions of dollars like candy using all sorts of social and contract schemes you’ll all be RICH in just a few short months after attention is deflected by something unrelated.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Whatever. Said from his villa in Italy where he is most likely isolated with only his cook, butlers, maids, and groundskeepers within shouting distance.

  • Bratsche1 says:

    It is heartening to hear Music Directors from other orchestras speaking up on behalf of the Met’s artists when the Met’s own Music Director refuses to do so. Thank you, Maestro Muti, for picking up Yannick’s slack.

  • Henry L says:

    In this most disingenuous letter, the famous Maestro regurgitates, again and again, trite words that he would like us to absorb uncritically as self-evident truths. But a careful reader’s critical reflection will inevitably uncover hollow and stale dogmas, mechanically amplified by a soul-less press (note: not referring to NL, God bless him) and by mind-less social media algorithms. Society without music would obviously be marred and deprived of something deeply valuable and not replaceable, but would not be doomed to barbarism. On the contrary: history has shown, across not centuries but millennia, how societies with collective identities soaked in “beauty” (Muti’s code word for a decadent, repugnant aestheticism), arts, music, theatre and “culture” can fall, and indeed have tragically fallen prey to the greatest aberrations and catastrophes.

    Far from believing such nonsense, many of us maintain that a society without a resilient moral fiber, justice, equality, decency, and honesty is a society that is surely doomed. These are the very attributes and values that Muti does not possess, and understand even less. Those who know him well have experienced it on their own skin, and can attest it: the famous Maestro is a despotic, decadent and amoral aestheta, a musical populist in an era with an apparent abundance of false prophets and flawed leaders that he very much resembles.

    Respectfully, I am offering Met musicians, whom many of us so deeply admire, an unsolicited and friendly piece of advice: seek a better advocate. Seek an advocate with character and integrity, an honest advocate. It will be shown in a definitive way that Muti is a hypocrite, entirely lacking the moral mettle to credibly champion your worthy cause.

    • Peter the Gatekeeper says:

      Did someone just say “God bless NL” or is there too much wax in my ears?

      [ducks to attend to ears]

    • Walter says:

      Perhaps you can expand on your inside knowledge of Muti. These are appalling things to say about someone without factual basis. VPO players don’t seem to agree – they invite their conductors and he’s been back 6 times. His Wikipedia entry details his resistance to the Berlusconi decision to cut funding and I have heard nothing but praise from players in the UK who have worked with him.

  • A.L. says:

    Riccardo Muti knows all too well that the real crisis in his corner of the arts extends way beyond what the musicians at the Metropolitan Opera are undergoing and, in fact, long precedes the coronavirus pandemic and its present day and future fiscal consequences. And what may that be? For the Metropolitan alone, an ever declining subscriber base, an ever aging audience, an ever declining younger audience, an auditorium two sizes too big for an art form fewer and fewer seem interested in, and, the icing on the cake, the unprecedented disappearance of interesting/compelling voices/singers/artists. For the country, all of the above plus a public education system second to none in inadequacy. For the rest of the world, give or take something or other from the above. Bottom line is, without compelling voices, there may soon not be a Metropolitan or a La Scala.

  • Sukadik says:

    To anyone who says he should put his wallet where his mouth is- I say this: how far will Yannick’s matching donation go toward 100 making a dent in the orchestra’s financial woes. Nothing at all. WORDS MATTER

  • Monsoon says:

    It’s pretty easy to say “do more” without offering any specifics.

    First, performing concerts in NYC is out of Gelb’s control — New York state has shut down public gatherings. I’m also skeptical that many New Yorkers would show up if they could given how bad the city was hit by COVID in the spring and the current soaring rates.

    Next, there isn’t much money in the Met’s endowment to be used to provide relief for the musicians and staff. The organization’s annual budget exceeds $300 million and the endowment is like $280 million. Even paying out 50 percent of salaries from the endowment would burn through much of it.

    If there is someone to criticize and blame, it’s the board. There are some extraordinarily wealthy people on it — families that are worth billions. If there was ever a moment for them to step up and write checks to make sure all Met employees are taken care of during the closure, this is it. Instead of screaming at Gelb, I’d be asking Ann Ziff how the board is leverage its wealth to help the Met get through this crisis.

    • Nicholas says:

      Has anyone thought of asking Elon Musk (present worth: $206 billion) or Jeff Bezos (just a tad below Musk) for a donation to help put food on the table for the Met’s employees during these hard times?

  • Ira Lieberman says:

    Granted, Muti is not God & can’t reorder society. Having played Attila with him at the Met I can attest to his musicality, charm & dedication to the composer. His arguments for sustaining the Met musicians are welcome.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      And “Attila” is all about the orchestra, right?

      • Walter says:

        A cheap comment! The work still needs a conductor and this musician attests to Muti’s manner in getting the job done. How would you feel if this poor insinuation was directed at you?

  • caranome says:

    I think it was Joe Volpe, Gelb’s predecessor, who said something like “when you negotiate with the unions, they never believe you are going bankrupt, until you do. By then it’s too late.” he should know, having started as carpenter at the Met and knowing the unions inside out.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    OK, here’s an idea. You won’t like it, but it’s a thought. If the Met Orchestra is so wonderful and needs to be preserved (and I have no doubt of that), why not break away from the dead weight of the opera and become a second major orchestra in N.Y.C.? . . . Again, I will state my previous point. Most people do not go see/hear opera for the sake of a wonderful orchestra. They care mostly about who and what is going on onstage, not down in the pit. The “Ring”, yes. “Wozzeck” or “Elektra”, sure. “La Fille du Regiment”, nope. The Met has enough trouble gathering consistently good casts as it is.

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      Interesting idea.

      The NYC metropolitan area could support two Big 5 professional orchestras and perhaps leave the opera to freelance musicians or one of the smaller units like Orpheus, St Lukes, or the former NYC Opera orchestra.

      The MET does play well enough as an orchestra to be on stage and a management (especially if player run) would be unencumbered with having to deal with the multiple unions at the MET Opera.

    • sam says:

      Keep dreaming.

      Within a 200 mile radius of New York, there are only 2 other world renowned orchestras, Philadelphia and Boston, and one went through bankruptcy.

      The Met orchestra orphaned from the Met would be like a Rockefeller disinherited by the Rockefellers, you got the name but no money and no place to live.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        Dreaming is precisely what it is. Everything begins with that. Nobody starts an orchestra as a ‘get rich’ scheme (except maybe Lawrence Welk and Andre Rieu). There might well be wealthy patrons who would prefer another night of high quality symphonic music, to yet another mediocre cast and production under the gaudy chandelier. There were those who said that Monday and Thursday night football would be a flop for the NFL too. But you’re right – dreaming is precisely where it starts.

    • William Safford says:

      I have heard the Met Orchestra in concert, separate from the opera company, multiple times. The Met Orchestra is (was?) excellent. I would love for your idea to come to pass.

      That said, it’s highly unlikely.

      The Symphony of the Air made a go of it some decades back, after the NBC Symphony closed shop. It lasted for several years before it, too, disbanded.

      Unless someone with deep pockets were to come forward to help out, it’s hard to imagine how such a thing could be accomplished.

      I hope the orchestra can go back to being the Met’s opera orchestra when we are past this pandemic. Time will tell.

  • jack says:

    Here is a question that I have. Much has been made of the difference between US and European (I still consider the UK “eEuropean”) performing arts organizations from the standpoint of (in the US) lack of government subsidy or the presence of it (in Europe). (I have harped on this myself.) But I would like to have some sense of what would happen to major classical and opera venues if the European governments suddenly ceased their subsidies. Is there sufficient support among the contemporary European populace to guarantee profitable support of these organizations absent any government intervention?

    • Walter says:

      In a word, No. ….. unless you sell out to pure music populism. The idea that a government may just have a better idea of what’s good for people is terribly unfashionable right now and doesn’t seem to have ever had a foothold in the US.
      However, in the UK, some of the best things used to happen because of the Rethian values that set up the BBC. Inform-Educate-Entertain. BBC Radio 3 used to broadcast a wider range of music regardless of audience numbers. Principles not pragmatism.

  • David Spence says:

    Espouse-and-deny, Maestro. How many times has it been you have conducted Cosi Fan Tutte? I own two of three dvd’s of yours of this piece. There is a virus out there. There are third world countries that have smashed the curve, and yet we have not. We can not have arts and culture if our musicians and audiences are, literally, dying.
    As brilliant as your work has been in the past, I fear it is time for you to hang it up. You have reached your sell-by date already – witness the horribly stodgy Ernani I just watched half an hour ago of the other day. (It does not hold a candle to the 1982 La Scala one, at any level, that you conducted then). We can all be back sooner if we follow the rules, and yet you advocate we all do something different. See outside the concert hall, the opera house for once. If what we are doing in the arts has become irrelevant to what goes on right in our very midst, on the streets around us, then what we are doing, except for a few elitists, is never going to survive anyway.

    • Walter says:

      So let’s explore what you say here and deal with the facts. At no point does Muti suggest the musicians should be putting lives at risk and working now. He says they should be supported, supported financially as other trades are by governments in other countries.
      You watch 30 minutes of Ernani and, despite owning and presumably loving the other 2 recordings, you tell the 79-year-old Muti to put away his baton. Many conductors change their view of music as they age – maybe he had something to offer you couldn’t hear in those 30 minutes. Maybe it’s you that wants same old, same old. Maybe you can be supportive and delight in him still being before the public even if the light does not burn as brightly.
      Art will survive what we are going through now – it always has. What it needs is for people to emphasise the positive and to be outspoken in their support.

  • Harpist says:

    Not adding much else than saying – what have we heard from the current Musical Director Yannick other then posts lounging nicely in a luxury suite somewhere in Canada in a bathrobe…

  • Chiara says:

    Good for Muti.

  • Tim Croft says:

    Wasn’t Norman calling for the bbc to give up on its orchestral musicians because they couldn’t perform during lockdown??

  • Frank says:

    Lots of conservatories continuing to churn out students, many of whom would be happy to play at the Met when it reopens, at half the salary previously paid. On some days the Curtis Institute’s student orchestra is the best orchestra in Philadelphia. Let”s keep things in perspective.

  • Walter says:

    There are some very poorly judged comments here and a disturbing number of likes for such views. It is not for a conductor to step in and financially rescue an orchestra. It is for the Met to sort initially and for US society as a whole to review how it supports music at the highest level.
    Muti also made an excellent speech at the New Year’s Day Concert supporting artists and displaying a deep understanding of our plight. The words were extremely well chosen.
    I despair at some of the negativity here.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      So you think that when the Maestro pontificates to the general US population, people are listening?

      The point made by another person on this thread is worthy of repeating.

      Muti makes from his numerous income streams, a good chunk of money, and most likely out earns what some of the MET board members earn. If he would step in with some of his money, perhaps there are some NYC dwellers who would actually pay attention to his statements.

      But scolding the general public and MET management who have to figure out how to please all the unions in the house while getting to the other side of this Pandemic doesn’t show much knowledge of how America works.

      Perhaps in Italy, he can brow beat a member of the government or scold the Mayor of Rome to do something. But it won’t work here. His words of wisdom did little to end the recent CSO strike.

    • William Safford says:

      It’s the comments section of Slipped Disc. You’re going to see a wide spectrum of opinions, as well as vast amounts of negativity, as well as offensiveness, and right-wing fascist white supremacist trolling.

  • Plush says:

    I do not understand why you say he should give his salary away. He is a great musician who is worth every cent of his pay. Why you wanna dump on the CHITOWN orchestra, baby? Why you wanna run down rich musicians? Why do foul your nest?

  • Walter says:

    Hard to imagine many here supporting the Arts at all! So much sniping! A leading conductor speaks on behalf of musicians and so many of you spit blood about it. So much hate with so many claiming you know this man’s morals and motives. Perhaps you need to be ready for the same vitriol if you ever speak out – but then maybe you never have and it’s his generosity that offends and challenges you. Disgraceful.

    • stickles says:

      I recalled an incident about 10 years ago, when Muti was awarded the $1million Birgit Nilsson Prize. When asked by the Chicago Tribune, he said that he would use some of that money to pay taxes to the Italian government and at the same time he lashed out at some of his Italian co-patriots for evading taxes by keeping foreign residences. Obviously, that was not the answer the public expected. On such occasions one would expect an answer such as a sizable donation to so and so, starting a new project to benefit humanity or some other lofty goals. Instead, there was this brutal honesty. He did not say what he would do with the leftover money; he only wanted to make that point about the taxes. Did he misbehave or misspeak? Many thought him a selfish man at that time, myself included. However, as time passes, I can only say that he is an imperfect man just like all the other souls on this earth.

      • CSOA Insider says:

        Small man is a better way to put it. A man who gifts his baton to a child in the Chicago audience – a good photo op duly reported by the servile Chicago Tribune. And then puts the replacement baton on his expense report. Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is Muti.

      • Walter says:

        Thank you for a detailed explanation of a real situation. It’s the first one I’ve seen here today.

  • J S says:

    Is that so? Then what are you doing here?

    Also, your comments are very repetitive. Boring. We can read the first post, no need to litter the entire section.

  • JussiB says:

    Give them dignity or give them death, as the saying goes.